Early Morning

Ibrahim’s eyes open around four in the morning, as always. He sits up, and next to him, Jada mumbles in her sleep, turning over onto her side and away from him. Lowering his feet to the floor, he slips out of the room and into the hallway. He showers then dresses quietly in the next room, not wanting to wake his wife. When he leaves the house, it is still dark outside. He shoves open the front gate and steps onto the sidewalk, and his mind is drawn to his son, about an hour away.

Kaleem will be already be up and training with his coach. It is mere weeks from the 2020 Olympic Trials and the pressure is up, especially since now Kaleem is a father—and Ibrahim a grandfather—to a six-month-old baby boy.

His name is Anwar.

It means, ‘light’, Kaleem explained, his voice filled with pride. Anwar Ibrahim Carter.

And Ibrahim smiled.

Anwar looks like both his parents. His complexion, currently that of a lightly-roasted peanut, will ripen slightly to a richer, darker hue, but his eyes are the same hazel as those of his mother, Asha, with her dense, spiky eyelashes. Anwar has her disposition as well. He is often still, smiles easily, and is content to lie quietly in his crib or play alone. Occasionally he gurgles to himself, or bursts into loud, high-pitched shrieks as if testing to make sure he still has a voice in this world. He rarely cries. His nose, his lips, his ears are Kaleem’s, and he reminds Ibrahim of what his son looked like as an infant.

Like I spat him out, Kaleem likes to say when he picks Anwar up, holding him above his head like Mufasa did Simba in ‘The Lion King’. We gotta make some more, babe. Two more. Or three. Let’s make three more just like this one.

Whenever he does this, and says this, Asha rolls her eyes but Ibrahim can see the deep feeling in them, and the indulgence. Kaleem will no doubt get three more babies out of that girl. He will get whatever he wants.

About two months after Anwar was born, Ibrahim spent a weekend with his son and daughter-in-law. In the morning, when Kaleem woke up to run, Asha was up as well, and breastfed their son, sitting on the sofa next to him while Kaleem put his runners on and prepared to leave the house. Walking in on the moment, Ibrahim apologized and retreated to the second bedroom listening to their voices trailing behind him.

Kaleem and Asha talk all the time, their apartment filled with the sound of their voices, of them narrating to each other details of their days and the hours they were apart.

Bruh peeled out of the parking lot at like, ninety, I’m tellin’ you …

… She is the meanest teacher in the whole school, and I kind of hope they fire her before I get back … I guess that makes me mean?

I was so high offa that run, babe, I almost jumped over the car instead of getting into it …

… Wonder if I’ll always have this little pooch now. Will you still love me if I’m fat?

Kaleem makes Asha laugh, and when Ibrahim looks at her with his son, he sees a light in Kaleem’s eyes that no one else—except now, Anwar—can ignite with the same ease.

Ibrahim found himself wishing that he and his wife talked as much. They used to, but not now. Now, there is often silence in their house.

When he first came home, they talked. Well into the night, and for weeks afterwards, they had long, winding conversations and frantic bouts of spontaneous lovemaking. But that, too, has slowed and almost stopped.

The very first time he touched Jada, after he came home from prison, Ibrahim was hesitant, slow, and embarrassed that his hands trembled. He was afraid of the strength of his need, and that he might hurt her. Jada was patient, and kept saying that it was okay, that he could go slow, that it was okay … okay … okay.

Her saying that had an effect that was opposite of what she probably intended. He was not reassured. It made him worry that prison had not only stripped them of their easy intimacy, but of her belief that he could please her as a man. And if she doubted his manhood, he wasn’t sure what he had left.

They managed it that night, though the first time had been fast, and no doubt unsatisfactory for her. He waited until he was ready again, and the second time had been better, but still, not good enough. He wanted to try again, but Jada said it was okay … okay … okay. And so he just held her until she fell asleep.

He did not sleep as easily. Or, really, at all, until early the next morning after he was finally able to make her pant and perspire and moan out his name the way she used to before his own foolish actions and the State of California had splintered his family, and separated him from his wife.

Making his way down the block to Free Range, the newest hipster café in the neighborhood, Ibrahim notes that the streets are quiet, deserted, and clean. All the gangbangers are gone these days and in their place are signs on almost every block about city council meetings, and block parties, farmers’ markets and garage sales. Free Range is open twenty-four hours because the couple who owns it, lives in the upper level and have a rotating cast of characters who staff it around the clock. They are young, this couple, and friendly, and fair-haired and perpetually suntanned. The dude wears flip flops all the time no matter his attire, and occasionally he wears skirts, which bear Polynesian prints.

It’s called an ie lavalava, he told Ibrahim when he caught him looking.

And then he launched into a soliloquy about how he didn’t really buy into the whole “gender binary thing” especially when it came to something as meaningless as the garments one put on their body.

That’s cool, Ibrahim told him, though really he was just hoping he would stop talking.

His name is Martin, and his partner’s name is Thea. That’s what he calls her, his “partner.” Funny, the changes in meaning that words have gone through in Ibrahim’s lifetime. While he was in prison, ‘partner’ also came to mean ‘life partner’ or ‘domestic partner.’ Apparently heterosexual people used those terms now as well and it wasn’t just the inadequate subsitute that gay people had to adopt when they couldn’t get married.

Though the streets are quiet, and it would be an ideal morning for it, Ibrahim no longer runs as often. He lost the habit when he was in prison, and afterward, found that he did not enjoy it as much as he used to. When he started, many years ago, it was because it gave him an outlet for the urge he had to move, to get things moving, to get ahead. Now, he has a different impulse – to sit still, to contemplate, to enjoy details, and to appreciate. He is not as hungry as he once was. This lack of hunger and the absence of a fire in his belly concerns him.

Sometimes, he still runs with Kaleem; though not lately now that his son has had to train harder. Now, Kaleem can run circles around him.

“Mr. Carter!”

Ibrahim approaches Free Range and finds the front door open, and Thea on her knees wiping the glass with a cheesecloth, holding a bottle of organic cleaner.

She stands upright and smiles at him, wiping her hands on the thighs of her jeans and setting aside the cleaning tools to take one of his hands in both of hers. She does a little bow when she greets him, a habit she says she picked up in India, where she once lived on an ashram.

Although he is aware she’s a cliché, Ibrahim likes her. She has that kind of blonde hair that always looks frizzy and dry, and out of control that she doesn’t do much with, except pull it back with a scarf once in a while. Stray strands are always wafting out of nowhere into her greenish eyes, upon which she will swat them away impatiently. She reminds Ibrahim of someone. He can’t remember who.

There is no one else in sight, either inside the café, or on the street. Ibrahim wonders at Thea’s comfort being this alone with him, a tall, brawny Black man. Over the years, Ibrahim met a few white kids like this—the ones in whose eyes he detected no awareness of his being different from them. The ones who he believed truly did not attach any consequence to him being Black and them being white. To whom their difference was a matter of descriptive significance only.

Obama Babies was how Ibrahim thought of them – young people who were in middle school when the Black President was elected, and who grew up in uber-liberal enclaves where it was so accepted it didn’t even merit discussion. Some of those young, white Obama Babies used to come into San Quentin as volunteers. Some of them looked truly surprised at what prison was like. Some of them even cried while they were there, or as they left. Many of them didn’t come back.

“Lemme guess,” Thea says. “Spinach omelet with egg whites only.”

“You got it.” Ibrahim nods. “I’ll help out while you’re doing that … put these …” He indicates the umbrellas for the outdoor seating, still folded, and stacked in a corner.

“Yeah, thanks. That’d be cool. It’s going to be a real scorcher today, apparently.”

While Thea goes in to make his breakfast, Ibrahim unfolds the umbrellas one by one and chooses a place to sit. When he sits, he takes the time to look around and sees that the neighborhood is still quiet. He realizes that he has left his phone at home. Having a cell phone with him all the time is something he still hasn’t become accustomed to, so he often leaves it places.

You can’t do that, Ibrahim! Jada said to him once, when she returned from work and found his phone sitting on the entryway table.

He discovered her sitting on the sofa, his phone clutched tightly in both her hands, still wearing her scrubs from work, eyes rimmed in red.

I didn’t know what to think! she continued, her eyes still a little wild.

You should think I forgot my phone, he told her, calmly.

And then she dropped it to the carpeted floor beneath her feet, put her face in her hands and began to cry.

It was like that at first, after he came out. Like she wasn’t sure she knew him anymore, and didn’t know what to expect. It stung that she thought there was any scenario, any circumstance that would have him walking out on her without even a word. Walking out on her at all. Before prison, she knew that there was no way he would ever leave her unless he didn’t have a choice. Now, he was constantly reassuring her and she was constantly reassuring him when before, no reassurance was necessary.

When Jada works a long shift, as she did last night, his wakefulness unsettles her and that is why Ibrahim leaves the house. She sleeps better, he thinks, when he is not there. And yet, paradoxically, his absence also makes her uneasy.

“Here we go!”

Thea returns, bearing a tray, but on it are three plates. One with Ibrahim’s omelet, another with scrambled egg whites and avocado, and another with whole grain toast. There is also a decorative teapot, and two teacups.

“Do you mind if I join you?” Thea asks.

 “Of course not. Please.” Ibrahim gives a brief nod.

Thea sits in the chair opposite him. She has pulled her hair back more securely, and is now wearing sunglasses atop her head. She pours them tea.

Ibrahim smiles at her and then shuts his eyes to say a brief, silent blessing over their meal. When he opens them, Thea is staring at him.

“Were you praying?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“To whom?” Thea’s head falls to one side.

Ibrahim’s eyebrows involuntarily lift.

“I mean … what religion are you?” she amends.

“I believe in the existence of the Divine, the Most Holy.”

Thea smiles. “That’s not really an answer though, is it?”

Ibrahim shrugs.

“I don’t believe in God,” Thea says conversationally.

“No?”

“No.” Thea picks up her fork. “The world is just a random, violent place. And we have to take from it whatever joy we can find.”

Staring at her for a moment, Ibrahim feels a sudden sadness.

“You’re really young to have such a grim outlook,” he said.

“You don’t think it’s random and violent?” Thea asks. “The world?”

“Sometimes violent. But not random.”

“If you really believe that, Mr. Carter, then you must have been a lucky, lucky man.”

“Ibrahim,” he says. “Please. Call me Ibrahim.”

In Medias Res–A Guide to ‘FOUR: STORIES OF MARRIAGE’

a 'Commitment' novelin me·di·as res
/in ˈmēdēəs ˈres,ˈmādēˌäs/
adverb
  1. into the middle of a narrative; without preamble.
    “having begun his story in medias res, he then interrupts it”
    • into the midst of things.

     

This one kicked my ass. Could you tell? (Here’s a hint: when a writer blogs to ‘explain’ their book before you’ve read it, they’re terrified of how it will be received). When I thought about writing the finale to the ‘Commitment’ couples, all I could think about was how much my readers wanted it. I was mildly curious about Shawn and Riley, Brendan and Tracy, Chris and Robyn, and Jayson and Keisha as well, but I have to admit, that the primary driving force was knowing how much you — the folks who even read my droning blogs about ‘process’–wanted to hear from them.

The dilemma I never considered was: what comes after the happily ever after? Where do you pick up a story that has ended conclusively, and happily? Where might we find those people? How do you write the beginning, middle and end to a story of people who have already had that? Then I remembered that true love stories never really end. There are ups and downs, things that send you spinning sideways, questioning and falling in and out of love, and then in love all over again. And I thought about how love stories are to be found in the mundane, day-to-day-ness of being in a couple. Raising kids, having meals, going to work, negotiating balance, growth … all of that.

So, in ‘Four: Stories of Marriage’, there is a lot of mundanity. I drop you in the middle of an ongoing narrative of four marriages, not at a beginning place, but smack-dab in the middle. And the ‘endings’ of these four stories are the same way … inconclusive, but a stepping away from action at a place where you don’t necessarily know what will come next, though you think you have an inkling. The other thing I thought about as I wrote ‘Four’ was the complexity of coupledom, and my belief that relationships are often about repeating the same dynamic, making the same mistakes, and negotiating the same tensions often without resolution. Not in a bad way, but in the push-and-pull way that keep people interested in and learning from each other, maybe over a lifetime.

I can’t give you a lifetime of reading about these couples. You wouldn’t want to read that, and I wouldn’t want to write it. But I leave you with them now, to rest, just as they are.

Love & Light,

Nia

P.S. Buy it, here.

 

 

** EXCLUSIVE SAMPLE **

exploringFrom ‘Young, Rich and Black’:

“Human relationships are complicated,” Rashad said. “You can’t rig that shit. It just happens the way it happens.”

Zora said nothing, keeping her hands folded on her lap, listening to him talk.

Usually, she loved listening to Shad talk. He had such agency of expression, such complete command of his words. They were currency for him—buying him entrée into circles where most young, Black men would never go. After Penn State, he was going to law school at Stanford, and after that, who knew? The sky was certainly the limit for someone like Shad but he wanted to be out West. He liked that he was going to be close to Oakland, because like lots of East Coast Black activists, he was in love with the city as the birthplace of the Black Panther Movement and imagined that there, some of the magic from that time would rub off.

“And I definitely understand why you were curious about him. I mean, hell, how many like him we got out there, apart from the ballers?”

He was talking about Deuce. Because after an hour of barely-disguised curiosity about how inaccessible she had been to him over most of the Break, he guessed that she had what he called “a fling” with someone. So, not wanting to act like Deuce was a dirty secret, and most of all wanting to put an end to the probing, Zora had just come out with it.

I drove home with Deuce Scaife, she said. And we wound up spending some time together over Break.

Yes, they spent time together. Lots of time. And then there was New Year’s Eve which was amazing. Scarily so. So scary that when Deuce had taken her home the next morning, Zora ignored all his calls and texts, instead immersing herself in her parents and brother for the next day and a half, then packing all her stuff to return to school.

She called Shad late on the night of the third of January, and suggested that they get going sooner rather than later. He was there before nine a.m. on the fourth and they had hit the road in his reliable but beat-up Toyota 4Runner.

Today, she knew for sure, Deuce would give up calling and stop by her parents’ house. He would have exhausted his limited patience by now; and knowing her planned departure date would simply show up. He was spoiled in that way. Spoiled in every way, really. He just wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. He never waited for anything. Not even for her. When he wanted her, he just … took her.

Sighing, Zora shook her head. It wasn’t working. She wasn’t going to be able to work up anything resembling anger at him. Because he had never treated her with anything but respect, and care and consideration. If his greatest sin was that he wanted her all the time, and didn’t like waiting to have her, then she was in for a hard road to get him and their “fling” out of her system.

“I don’t mean to get all in your business or anything,” Rashad continued. “But as far as you and him …”

“Nothing changes,” Zora said. “We were just … kickin’ it over Break.”

She couldn’t even look at him when she said those words, because they felt so blatantly false. But it was basically what she and Deuce had agreed to—the temporary shedding of expectations. And that was all.

“Figured.”

“What does that mean?” Zora snapped.

Rashad shrugged, looking away from the road for a moment. “Nothing. I just don’t see bruh at a BLM march, do you?”

“It’s not like he’s oblivious to what’s going on out there. He’s been stopped before.”

Rashad laughed. “Impressive. Him, and every other Black man in America. That’s hardly the equivalent of street cred.”

Zora rolled her eyes. “He’s more than you think, Rashad,” she murmured. “And besides, that wasn’t what it … what we were about.”

“Okay, so tell me,” Rashad’s voice rose a little, and Zora heard the annoyance, and the jealousy he had concealed before. “What were you about?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Because …”

“Did you fuck him?”

“Shad.”

“You did, right? Because that’s all I can think of that would make someone like that interesting to someone like you. Curiosity about the magic dick that sends all these dumb-ass girls scurrying his way to get used.”

Zora’s stomach clenched at the phrase, ‘sends all the girls scurrying his way.’

But that was Deuce’s rep. And though Rashad hadn’t said it, implicit in his comment was some judgment about the type of girls Deuce was notorious for bedding. He generally checked for Latinas and White chicks, and the precious few who weren’t, may as well have been since they looked it. His type was so firmly established that even people on campus who had never exchanged three words with him could probably pick his likely sex partners out of a line-up.

Zora knew what it was like to be fetishized. Since puberty there had been guys, some of them White, some of them Black, for whom her darkness, her unmistakable Blackness, seemed to be her single most irresistible feature. They stared at her in a manner that was vaguely disturbing, sometimes putting their arm against hers, rhapsodizing about the contrast in their skin tones. Or they played a little too often with her wiry, kinky hair, testing its texture, stretching and releasing it; examining each component of her as though she was a rare museum piece.

Deuce wasn’t like that.

He never remarked on their differences, but instead, often told her she was beautiful, or pretty. Even Rashad had never done that—leaned in, though they were in a crowded room, in a Target checkout line, or waiting for movie tickets—and with mouth against her ear, whispered, you’re so beautiful or damn, you look amazing today.

Where’d you learn that? Zora had asked him once. Where did you learn to make a girl feel so good?

But that time, she meant something else entirely. Deuce had been at the foot of the bed, between her legs. When he lifted his head, he looked dizzy, and drunk with her. Sliding up along her body, he was rock-hard.

Making you feel good, makes me feel good, he said almost matter-of-factly. And you don’t know, Zee … you taste better than anything in this world.

Then he kissed her, long and deep so she could taste herself as well. But Zora still didn’t know what he was talking about. To her, what made the kiss good, was just … him.

“You know what?” Rashad said now. “It don’t matter. You fucked him, but it’s over. That’s the important thing. It’s over. And I’m confident in my shit … Fuck that nigga.”

Available Now on Amazon

 

 

 

‘Young, Rich & Black’: An Afterwards Novella

youngrichSAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘Young, Rich & Black: An Afterwards Novella’

“Didn’t I just see you last night?”

Phone up against his ear, Deuce watched from the other side of the barbershop as his father got the finishing touches on his shave. His own haircut had been done for a little while, and when he got tired of the shit-talking and sports predictions, he called Zora. Just to see what was up with her since they hadn’t talked after he dropped her off the evening before.

“Yeah. Damn. Just checking to see if you’re a’ight. Is that a problem?”

“Why wouldn’t I be alright? From what I remember, you saw me walk up my front path, unlock the door and step right into my house, didn’t you? I know, because I waved at you from the open front door.”

He smiled. He kind of liked it when she teased him; not by being coy, but by playing coy.

“I’m a gentleman. I was taught to wait until the lady was safe before pulling off. And there’s been a few home invasion robberies in Jersey so you never know.”

Zora laughed her husky yet melodious laugh. “Well, no one’s invaded my home. So I’m totally fine. But thanks for checking.”

“You’re welcome.”

For a few moments, there was silence between them. Across the room, the barber was wiping his father’s face clean. Soon he would take out his powder and brush and Deuce would no longer have the privacy he needed to seal this deal.

“What’re you doin’ later?”

“Nothing. The usual for when its cold as hell outside. Netflix. Chill.”

“Come do that with me.”

“Why, when I could do it right here? And not even have to change out of my PJs.”

“You haven’t changed out of your PJs?”

“Nope.” Zora made a popping noise with her lips when she pronounced the word.

“That’s nasty.”

She laughed. “I showered before bed.”

“Yeah. Sure you did.”

“I did.”

“Deuce!”

He looked up. His father was done, and beckoning for him as he doled out tips to the barber and his assistant.

“If you don’t want to come over, let me come over there then.”

“I probably should leave the house,” Zora said, almost as though talking to herself. “Whenever I try to veg out all day, it seems like a good idea, and then around seven-thirty I start feeling a little stir-crazy.”

“So … you comin’ over or …?”

“Ahm …”

Deuce stood, deliberately slow-walking toward the exit of the barbershop where his father was waiting for him. Ducking his head, and lowering his voice, he spoke deliberately softly into the phone.

“C’mon, Zee,” he said. “I really want to see you.”


coming soon.

Sample Sunday: ‘Because My Heart Said So’

 

BMHSS Final CoverThis has been a crazy-exciting week! Along with Jacinta Howard, Lily Java and Rae Lamar, I’m thrilled to announce that our Friends-to-Lovers Collection is available on Amazon for pre-order in advance of our June 15 release date. We’re all a little shell-shocked honestly, and hadn’t thought too far beyond getting the book written so now that we have, we’re befuddled about what to do with ourselves. So let’s take this one day at a time, starting with a Sample for Sunday.

From ‘Because My Heart Said So’

About ‘Acceptable Losses’ by Nia Forrester

Quentin is in the middle of a separation from his wife that seems to have no conclusive end in sight, while Lena is stuck in Single Girl Hell. The only respite either of them have is their regular coffee dates, while working on shared projects at a very demanding job. Sick of hearing about Lena’s semi-disastrous attempts to couple-up, Quentin decides to fix her up. With his brother. Seems like a perfect solution; after all, his brother is a decent enough guy and Lena deserves that. Perfect … until it appears that the fix-up might actually work.


From ‘Acceptable Losses’:

“This was so not what I was expecting,” Lena said, laughing as she and Darius exited the fitness studio. “When a guy asks me out, I’m thinking wine … fancy hors d’oeuvres, a complete meal maybe …”

“We can do something like that next time,” Darius said.

“So now that you sweated my tail off, am I free to go?”

“Nah. We’re going to Jamba Juice,” he said, inclining his head to the left.

Lena sighed. “Okay, you’re in charge, so let’s do it.”

“You did well in there,” he said as they started walking.

“Thank you. Was it a test or something? Something you put women through to see whether you want to take them on a real date?”

“Nah. Why would I need to test you? My brother says you’re cool people, so you’re cool people.”

Lena shook her head. “That’s all it takes, huh? Q’s endorsement?”

“He’s never steered me wrong.” Darius shrugged.

“And is he in the habit of … steering women your way?”

Darius laughed. “I do a’ight on my own.”

Lena didn’t doubt it. While they were working out, more than a few gym-bunnies shot envious looks her way, their eyes skimming Darius’ frame, struggling not to stare. It was a special kind of high, she couldn’t lie—being with That Dude at the gym, being the object of all that envy.

When Lena called him back to let him know she was free, Darius told her to “dress very casually, and for an active evening.” So Lena had worn loose black yoga pants, her tennis shoes, and a long-sleeved, white Under Armour shirt, pulling her hair back into a high Afro-puff. She imagined he was probably taking her to play laser-tag or something, but when she met Darius at the address he gave her, she got out of the Uber and realized it was a Washington Sports Club.

We’re gonna work out, he’d announced, looking pleased with himself.

And they had. After a half hour warm-up on the treadmill, Darius took her through his routine of dead-lifts, bench presses, squats, and flies. Somewhere about forty minutes in, Lena felt those endorphins kick in, and actually started to enjoy herself.

And it didn’t hurt that she got to watch Darius’s muscles ripple and tremble as he put them to work. Even the grunting and groaning as he handled the heavy weights was kind of sexy.

Now, as they walked down the cobblestone sidewalks of Wisconsin Avenue, Lena was glad she’d come. Working out was something of an afterthought for her most days since she worked long hours, so it was good to see how well her body held up under pressure.

“After we get our smoothies, want to see my studio?”

Darius was walking closely at her side, but not touching her. Lena pretended not to notice the looks he got from other women. His tattoos didn’t just cover his forearms, she’d learned; they were all the way up to his shoulders and neck as well. And when he lifted his shirt in the gym to wipe his brow, there were even more on his chest.

“I would love to see your studio,” she said. “But you’re not going to talk me into getting a tattoo.”

He grinned. “No authentic tattoo artist would do such a thing.”

In Jamba Juice, they both got energy bowls and sat at one of the tables to eat, Darius’s long legs stretched out beneath it, on either side of Lena’s.

“So is this your standard Wednesday night?” she asked.

“This is my standard, any-day-of-the-week night. Except for Fridays. On Fridays, I hang with Q.”

“Every Friday?”

“Without fail.”

“That must get irritating for women you’re involved with. Friday is supposed to be date night, couples’ night. Do you ever bring your dates with you?”

“Nah. Friday is about me and Q. If she’s not with that, she can’t be with me.”

“That’s a pretty hard line to draw. I guess I should be flattered I was invited to hang out with you two last Friday.”

“You should,” Darius said, looking at her seriously for a moment. “He’s never done that before. Neither of us has. That’s how I knew you were important to him.”

Lena looked down into her bowl and scooped up a spoonful of strawberries and yogurt. “I don’t know about all that. We’re friends, and he wanted me to meet you, that’s all.”

“Hmm.” Darius looked at her searchingly. “Y’know, I’m going to share something with you about my brother …”

Lena looked up, waiting.

“He doesn’t … always know his own heart. So when he wanted me to meet you, like maybe so I could ask you out, I wondered, y’know. Especially when I saw you two together.”

“What did you wonder?”

“Whether friendship was all either of you wanted. From each other, I mean.”

“Did you ask him?”

“I did.”

“And what did he say?” Lena asked, trying not to sound too eager to know.

Darius shook his head. “I’d rather hear what you say.”

Lena forced herself to meet and hold Darius’ gaze. “Your brother’s married,” she said. “And even if he weren’t, we are most definitely just friends. I wouldn’t have accepted your invitation tonight otherwise.”

Every word of what she said was true, but then why did it feel like a lie?

Darius’s eyes held hers for a few moments more. “Okay,” he said finally.

Then he looked down into his bowl again and dug in, coming up with a heaping spoon of fruit and oat grain which he promptly ate, chewing like it was the most delicious thing he’d ever eaten.

When he swallowed, he leaned back and watched her eat a few bites. Lena pretended not to feel self-conscious at being so openly regarded, and kept eating, albeit more slowly and daintily than she might otherwise have done.

“So,” Darius said, “you want to hang out again sometime?”

Moment of truth, Lena.

Darius was waiting, his light-brown eyes trained on her face. All the confusion about Quentin aside, he was the most attractive man who had asked her out in eons. And the most fascinating. If she had met him any other way, and at any other time—like before she met Quentin—she would be jumping out of her skin to say ‘yes’. But she had met Quentin first and had only met Darius because he was Quentin’s brother.

Then she recalled what Marlon had said earlier that evening: He’s married, Lena, and it looks like he’s trying to stay that way.

“Yeah,” she said to Darius. “I think I would.”

He grinned. “Hurry up and finish that,” he said, “So I can walk you over to my studio. And talk you into that tattoo.”

 

‘Because My Heart Said So’ is AVAILABLE NOW TO PRE-ORDER!

‘The Fall’ – COMING APRIL 20th

TheFall_Forrester_EBOOK (2)

A note from the author:

You may remember Lorna Terry from my book, ‘Commitment’; Riley’s mother, the professor who resented her daughter’s decision to marry a rapper of all things, but more than that, as a radical feminist sometimes resented the very idea of marriage.

Of all the characters I’ve ever written, Lorna Terry seemed to be the most sure of who she was and came to me feeling ‘whole’–like there was very little for me to do but put her on the page. I didn’t wonder how she became the self-assured woman she was, she just … was. But no one comes ‘whole’. We’re all the product of little tiny pieces of experiences, lessons, prejudices, assets and flaws. So I wanted to deconstruct Lorna, figure out who she is, and why she is the woman we see in ‘Commitment’. What I uncovered was someone much more flawed than I expected, and much more layered. I loved writing this book. And for the first time in a long time, I didn’t want to leave the characters.

On April 20th, I introduce you to her. I hope you love her –with all her flaws and complications–as I do.

About the book:

In the summer of her fifteenth year as a professor at Gilchrist College, Lorna Terry is at a crossroads and, she fears, also on the downswing of her career as the “sole remaining radical feminist in academia.” Having built her life on a theory of non-attachment, she is disturbed to find herself becoming very much attached to the somewhat younger, Malcolm T. Mitchell. A writer-on-the rise, and her college’s newest wunderkind, Malcolm is about to challenge everything she thought she ever knew about her life, her loves, and her work.

But her growing attachment to Malcolm may well be the least of Lorna’s worries. For some in her academic community, she has risen too far, and too fast. And for others, she is much too smug in her accomplishments, enjoys adulation she doesn’t deserve, and is much too proud. And you know what they say about pride …

It cometh before the fall.

From ‘The Fall’:

“It’s so weird visiting you here,” Riley said walking around the office. “I don’t recall ever coming to your office when I was actually enrolled at the college.”

“You didn’t. But I wasn’t in this office. When you were here, I had the much smaller one in Rayburn Hall.”

Riley had left Shawn with the kids for the day and driven up. For lunch was what they said, though they both knew the real reason was to finish the conversation that had been started in Riley’s kitchen a few days after she brought Cassidy home from the hospital. Already, her daughter had resumed the size she was before her pregnancy—breastfeeding and her father’s genes, probably. Lorna remembered carrying around an extra twenty pounds for months after Riley’s birth. And of course, she hadn’t breastfed at all.

“Which classes are having their reunions this year?” Riley asked lifting and inspecting a book on Lorna’s desk.

“Not sure. I usually leave town for all that brouhaha.”

“Which I’m sure makes the deans mad at you. I bet lots of people come just to meet you.”

“Don’t kid yourself. They come to get drunk and sleep with their old college boyfriend or girlfriend, to see whether all those sweet romantic memories are accurate.”

Riley laughed. “Ever the cynic. I had lots of college flings. I can’t imagine being even slightly interested in any of them now.”

“Remember how you never wanted me to meet them?” Lorna asked gathering her bag and keys. “Now that you’re older I can ask: what the hell was up with that?

“I don’t know.” Riley shrugged. “I was probably afraid of them falling in love with you or something.”

“Riley!”

“No, seriously. You always seemed to attract younger men in droves …”

Lorna thought of the grad student, whose name she now knew well—Todd Williamson. And she thought of Malcolm, who lately had begun to seem less and less young.

“That’s not true. Is it?”

“Yes, Mom. Seriously? You don’t remember?”

“No, I don’t. Like … who are you talking about?”

“Like I could remember their names.” Riley scoffed.

Though Lorna knew she didn’t mean it to be cruel or judgmental, the comment stung. There had been men, for sure, but when Riley entered Gilchrist, Lorna hadn’t yet turned forty. She was in her prime, so of course there were men.

“Did I …” She paused while locking her office door. “Did I introduce you to them all?”

“If you could call it that. I ran into some in our kitchen when I stopped by the house, or in the bathroom, or …”

“How is it we never talked about this?”

“What was there to talk about? You had lovers. You never hid that, and you always taught me it was nothing to be ashamed of. So I didn’t …” Riley shrugged again. “It was mostly no big deal. I can’t believe you’re saying you now don’t remember any of this.”

“No,” Lorna said. “I’m not saying I don’t remember any of it. I guess I just remember it differently, that’s all. There were men who were around for longer. There was Earl, there was …”

Riley seemed to detect her consternation and touched her on the forearm. “Lorna, like I said, it was no big deal.”

“You said it was mostly no big deal, actually. That’s not the same thing.”

“Well I meant ‘no big deal’. So anyway, let’s go find someplace to eat. I feel like Italian. How ‘bout you?”

They ate at Andiamo! which was a favorite of the Gilchrist community because of its enormous antipasti selection and could-stuff-a-horse entrée portion sizes. Riley ordered like someone who was still eating for two, but Lorna didn’t bother remarking on it since her daughter never seemed to gain an ounce anyway, and wouldn’t have cared if she did. Lorna herself had only recently begun to care about things like pant sizes and the number on the scale.

“So I want to talk more about me being a bad mother,” Lorna said once they’d placed their orders.

Riley looked at her, freezing just as she was about to dip a piece of bread into the plate of olive oil and cracked pepper between them.

“Who said anything about ..? See this is why we never have these kinds of conversations. When it’s about you, you get incredibly sensitive. And yet you insist on doling out brutal truths to everyone else when it’s about them.”

“What you described earlier, men coming and going, is a pretty shitty mother, that’s all.”

“That’s your judgment of yourself. I never said anything like that.”

“I don’t know how else to …”

“Look, I came here because I wanted to ask you some questions about my father. And suddenly it’s about you. It’s always about you, Lorna.”

“Ah. And now we get the truth.”

“I always tell you the truth. And the truth is this: I never said you were a bad mother. Did I sometimes wish you made it to more PTA meetings? Sure. Did I wish my house didn’t reek of pot when my friends came over when I was in middle school? Of course. Did I occasionally want you to bake some fucking brownies? Yes! But I never said you were a shitty mother!”

Riley raising her voice was so unusual that Lorna was for a few minutes, literally without words.

“I don’t know what narrative you have in your head about yourself that you’re hoping I’ll confirm for you,” Riley continued in a calmer tone. “But I had a pretty good childhood. Some of it not so good, but on balance, good. I don’t know what else you want me to say.”

“I’m … sorry.”

Riley looked up. She seemed surprised. Lorna knew it was because those two words were ones she didn’t often say in sequence. The second one she didn’t often say, period.

“You’re right. This isn’t about me. But I think some of what you said may have triggered me. Made me think of my own mother.”

“What about her?” Riley asked slowly. “We never … You’ve never told me much about your family. I don’t even know if there’s anyone left.”

“I don’t know either,” Lorna said ruefully.

“Mom. Look. If today you don’t feel up to …”

“No. You came up here, so let’s talk.” She nodded. “Let me tell you about your father.”

Riley bit into the crusty bit of bread in her hand, brushing away the crumbs that fell onto her shirt. “Okay, so …”

“It’s hard to talk about him,” Lorna acknowledged.

“Why? Was he like, I don’t know, an asshole to you or something?”

Lorna laughed. “No. Quite the opposite, actually.”

She leaned back and took a deep breath before beginning to speak.

 

 

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘The Fall’

The Fall Promo

About the book:

In the summer of her fifteenth year as a professor at Gilchrist College, Lorna Terry is at a crossroads and, she fears, also on the downswing of her career as the “sole remaining radical feminist in academia.” Having built her life on a theory of non-attachment, she is disturbed to find herself becoming very much attached to the somewhat younger, Malcolm T. Mitchell. A writer-on-the rise, and her college’s newest wunderkind, Malcolm is about to challenge everything she thought she ever knew about her life, her loves, and her work.

But her growing attachment to Malcolm may well be the least of Lorna’s worries. For some in her academic community, she has risen too far, and too fast. And for others, she is much too smug in her accomplishments, enjoys adulation she doesn’t deserve, and is much too proud. And you know what they say about pride …

It cometh before the fall.

From ‘The Fall’:

Malcolm had just backed out of the driveway of his small, college-owned house when he thought of her. So rather than resist the urge, he called. The first ring sounded in the confines of his car. He waited through a second and then a third, fully expecting that he would be sent to voicemail; so her voice was a surprise. It was smoky, smooth and sounded like that of someone who had not too long ago woken up. But that was the way Lorna Terry sounded all the time, and it just about drove him crazy.

“I wondered whether you might want to keep me company for a little bit,” he said.

“Who is this?”

Her humor. That was another thing he liked about her. It was biting and sharp, not for the feint of heart. He could only imagine the number of men whose balls shrunk in the face of a woman like her.

“You answered.”

“I seem to recall having been ordered to do so.”

“I was bluffing,” Malcolm said.

On the other end of the line, Lorna sighed. “I’ll remember that the next time you order me to do something.”

“You never would do anything you didn’t want to do anyway.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I can occasionally be coerced.”

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “When was the last time anyone ever coerced you into anything?”

“Just this afternoon. Steven insisted I change the title of one of my courses. You walked in on the tail-end of the coercion as a matter of fact.”

“Is that why you looked so put-out and annoyed? I thought that was because of me.”

“You’re vastly overestimating the effect you have on my moods, Malcolm,” she said.

He smiled. Another zinger. A man would have to bring his ‘A’ game every single time with her, for sure.

Malcolm heard sounds like her moving around crockery, perhaps washing dishes, or grabbing a mug for coffee? He was curious about her life, and what she did to occupy it. Did she read in the evenings? Drink a glass of wine? Watch trashy television and drink flowery teas? Did she write, or entertain lovers? Everything about Lorna Terry intrigued him from the moment they’d met, and for a while he was proud of himself for having ensnared someone so fascinating, until his unreturned calls forced him to admit that it was she who had ensnared him.

“So what was the title of the course you were coerced into changing?”

When she told him, Malcolm spluttered into unexpected laughter. On the other end of the line, Lorna laughed with him.

“I don’t think it’s that shocking,” she said finally, a smile still in her voice. “I mean, do you know what young people are up these days?”

“No, I don’t know. Do you?”

“Well, no, but …”

“It can’t be much worse than what went on in the sixties.”

“I know you’re an English professor, but your math is terrible. I have no idea what went on in the sixties. I was born when all that was over—Kennedy had been shot, Dr. King was gone—and I missed the whole free-love party.”

He was beginning to think the whole age thing was more of a soft spot for her than she was acknowledging even to herself.

“I didn’t mean you’d experienced it, Lorna. Just that there’s nothing new under the sun.”

“Well, men’s squeamishness about women co-opting their vocabulary to refer to our sex is definitely not new. So I guess I should have known that the word ‘pussy’ would have Steven clutching his pearls.”

God, he could talk to her all night. He hadn’t been kidding when he said what he had at dinner. She made his dick hard, just because of her intellect alone. And that there was all the rest of it? Well, that just made the whole package infinitely more appealing.

“So have you come up with anything? Anything other than ‘pussy power’ I mean.”

“No,” Lorna said sourly. “I think my brain is rejecting the exercise entirely. It’s refusing to help me. Maybe you can help me think of something.”

“No ma’am. I’m staying well clear of this one.”

“Oh I didn’t peg you as a coward, Malcolm T. Mitchell.”

“I’m not. I just steer clear or coming up with, or using clever names for women’s anatomy,”

“That’s not what I remember,” Lorna said.

Malcolm felt a twitch at his crotch, but said nothing.

“And speaking of cowardice. Why are you talking to me on the phone and not here with me in the flesh?”

The way she said the word ‘flesh’ positively dripped with sex. If he wasn’t careful, this woman would have him whipped, quick and in a hurry.

“I’m not about to let you use me for my body, Professor Terry,” he said, trying to keep the tone light.

“So what would you like me to use you for?

“Well, I don’t want to be too hasty on the body thing. You can use that at will. But I want to be more than that. And I have an instinct about you.”

“Really? What’s that?”

She was practically purring now, and Malcolm felt himself developing what felt like an honest-to-goodness woody. Just from talking to her.

“My instinct tells me that you’re a woman who doesn’t value anything that comes too easily.”

“Trust me. You’re far from easy,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had to work this hard to get laid a second time by a man I’ve already slept with once.”

Malcolm laughed again. “I don’t know what to do with you.”

“Yes you do. You’re just too frightened to do it.”

“Hey. Not frightened. Cautious,” he chided. “I want us to get to know each other better. Is that so terrible?”

“Not at all. In fact I look forward to it. But there’s no reason we can’t do that and sleep together too.”

“You’re being too agreeable. I think you’re messin’ with me.”

“Not at all. So come over. I’ll leave the door open for you.”

For a split second, Malcolm shut his eyes. Christ, he wished he could.

“Can’t tonight. On my way to the city to see my girls.”

“Oh. Another time then.” Lorna sounded as though it made no difference to her one way or another. If it was the last thing he did, he was going to make this woman beg for him.

“Tomorrow,” he said.

“Well …” She let the word drag out. “Tomorrow’s tricky for me.”

“You didn’t say anything about it being tricky when I mentioned it earlier. What’s tricky about it?”

Down boy. You’re the one who’s begging right now.

“I told you, Steven wants …”

“Bullshit,” Malcolm said. “I’m coming for you at one, just like I said.”

“Malcolm …”

“G’night, Lorna. I better go. This is a weird spot for cell service.”

“Malcolm …”

He hung up on her and waited. If she called back, then she was serious about canceling. Malcolm counted to ten very slowly but his phone didn’t ring.

Twenty. Thirty seconds. A minute.

The phone remained silent.


Coming soon!